USC Founder Central Initiative

Create and disseminate knowledge about the most important early decisions faced by founders and the other people who help build startups.

For founders and their startups, early decisions about people – cofounders, employees, investors, and board members – are vital to the founders’ and startups’ long-term success.  Yet these decisions are often made without the benefit of a roadmap of the most important early decisions, when these decisions should be made, which options to consider, and the likely long-term consequences of those decisions.

As a result, “people problems” are the biggest reason (by far) for the high failure rate of high-potential startups.  Without a solid roadmap, founders are at an increased risk of making poor people decisions and thus increasing the chances that the founding team will splinter, growth will be harmed, or the founder will be replaced as CEO.

Providing this roadmap is the mission of USC’s Founder Central initiative, facilitating research into the most important decisions faced by founders and spreading the knowledge to the people who can most benefit from it. 


Noam Wasserman

The founding director of the Founder Central initiative is Prof. Noam Wasserman.  Prof. Wasserman was an award-winning professor at Harvard Business School for 13 years before coming to USC to start and build Founder Central. He is the author of the bestselling book, The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup.

The core material of Founder Central’s initial external-education activities comes from the course Prof. Wasserman developed based on his research, Founder’s Dilemmas:

  • Highest-rated entrepreneurship course at Harvard Business School for 7 years.
  • One of the 10 best entrepreneurship courses in the country - Inc. magazine
  • Awarded Academy of Management’s Innovation in Entrepreneurship Pedagogy award and Impact on Practice award.

External Education: Founder and Angel Bootcamps

The goal of Founder Central’s external-education activities is to help startups with great ideas anticipate and avoid the pitfalls that could prevent their ideas from impacting the world. To bring the Founder’s Dilemmas lessons to the people who can most benefit from them, Founder Central will conduct intensive bootcamps for key players in building startups. 

The initial bootcamps are debuting in Fall 2016, and include the following focuses and audiences:

  • Founder Bootcamp – targeted at current and potential founders, this bootcamp focuses on the early decisions founders make that tend to get them into trouble down the road.
  • Angel Bootcamp – targeted at investors and advisors who help fund and guide startups, this bootcamp is being created jointly with the Techstars incubator. It covers the evaluation of founders and founding teams (taught by Prof. Wasserman) and the legal and financial issues faced by angel investors (taught by Techstars experts).

Both bootcamps will feature interactive talks, experiential exercises, panel discussions with experienced founders and investors, and appearances by case protagonists in person or via video.

To participate in the Founder Bootcamp or the Angel Bootcamp contact Prof. Wasserman.

Research Activities: Unique Founder Dataset

The core of the initiative’s initial research effort is the “CompStudy” dataset collected over the last 15 years by Prof. Wasserman. The dataset includes more than 15,000 founders and 30,000 total startup executives, making it the largest dataset of its kind. 

CompStudy has become the standard source of startup compensation data across the U.S., used by boards and CEOs to make decisions about founder and senior-executive compensation across the high-technology and life-sciences industries.  The data also formed the quantitative backbone of Prof. Wasserman’s book.

The research activities also include case-writing projects and other field/qualitative efforts to document, analyze, and understand founders and the early decisions they make as they build their startups.